Of Seizures and Shotguns

A Paramedic Story

Lee Durham and I were cruising around in the ambulance when we got a call to a kind of scruffy neighborhood for ‘fightin’ seizures’.  We headed down there with the usual fanfare.  As you probably suspect, there is no medical condition of fightin’(g) seizures.  So it wasn’t at all clear what would be going on when we got there.

I jumped out of the ambulance at the address and Lee set out to find a decent place to park it in a congested lot.  When I walked in the door of the apartment, there were two huge women sitting on a guy, who was trying to wriggle (unsuccessfully) out from underneath them.

My first life-saving act was to tell the women to get up.  They were going on about how the patient, the guy they were sitting on, had been trying to get hold of a shotgun.  I was interviewing the patient, trying to see if there was anything actually medical underlying all the noise.  One of the women shows up with the alleged shotgun.  Now the patient does want the shotgun, because the woman has it.  She’s just waving it around with one hand and doesn’t pose a threat for the most part, but the patient is a question mark.  So I’m staying between him and the shotgun.

Lee opens the door and walks into this mess.  Rather than turning around and running, Lee grabs the shotgun from the woman, jacks the shells out of it, and sets it outside the door.  The patient is standing in an opening to a hallway.  He looks into a bedroom, darts in, and yanks open the top dresser drawer.  I didn’t see a gun, but it sure seemed like a real possibility.  There were a couple of things I could have done at that point, but I chose to run into the bedroom and tackle the patient.  Lee also had a couple of choices, but he rushed in behind me and dived into the melee.

I had the patient in a full nelson and Lee had a few more loose ends.  Whenever the patient struggled we’d rub his head into the floor.  Somewhere in the confusion we had called for police backup and we waited what seemed like 20 minutes for them to show up.  When the police arrived we let the patient up and the whole scene was much calmer.  The cop searched the dresser drawer but there was no gun.  I still believe the patient thought there was one.  Since everything was calm now and there didn’t seem to be anything actually medical going on, we all just left.

This call was unusual enough to be worthy of the telling, but was not particularly exceptional.  Any medic reading this is thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we ran this call once where…’  And any medic on my shift I could have trusted to back me up like Lee did.  I tell my current federal employee co-workers that none of them rise to that standard.

Lee went to med school and is now an immunologist.  If you’re his patient, you can take solace in the fact that while quick thinking may not be required in the day-to-day battle against germs, Lee is the guy if something comes up.


Quaalude Falls

A River Story

In 1977 I was working for Southeastern Expeditions as a raft guide on Section IV of the Chattooga River.  I’ve never been one to let management lead an easy life and as a raft guide I punished the trip leaders, claiming that their job entailed making two decisions: 1) where to eat lunch (which would be Ravens Rock-every day) and 2) when (which would be when we got there).  So finally they said ‘OK then-YOU be trip leader’.  No big deal.

The Saturday trip started OK, but things went downhill rapidly.  My entire crew was loopy and untrainable.  Before we got to Woodall Shoals several people had fallen out of my raft in the tiniest of rapids.  A girl took her bikini top off to drape herself across the raft tube and sunbathe.  In distant retrospect I realize she must have also had her life jacket off and there’s a rule against that.

The guides all compared notes at Woodall Shoals.  Just about everyone had lost people out of their rafts.  Some investigation revealed that about 25 out of 30 customers on the trip were from Geralds’s singles bar in Atlanta and they had all dropped Quaaludes before the trip.

If you haven’t heard of Quaaludes before, they were a recreational drug of the 70’s. US manufacturer stopped in the 80’s due to universal abuse and the lack of a legitimate medical purpose for them.  Classified as a hypnotic, like most recreational drugs of the era they pretty much just made you stupid.

So there was a decision to be made and it wasn’t about lunch.  There is a road out at Woodall Shoals, blocked off about a half mile from the river.  Since this was the pre-cellphone era, a guide would have to run out several miles, and organize vehicles to pick us up.  We would have to haul all the gear up to the road block and it didn’t look like our luders would be a lot of help with that.

So I decided to head down the river with them.  We eventually realized that we couldn’t let the luders sit on the side of the raft and started just piling them in the bottom.  Arguments ensued: ‘You’ve got four straight people in your raft and I don’t have any; fork one over’.  So the straight customers got distributed among the luder rafts so we could negotiate the river.  I imagine it wasn’t what they anticipated for the day.  I’d love to hear their telling of the trip.

When we got to five falls we stuck with conveying the luders in the bottom of the raft as it didn’t look like they could safely walk down the banks.  We would double up the straights and have them hike back up to run each rapid two or three times. Complaints like ‘I have to run Corkscrew again?’ were heard.  We finally made it past the last significant rapid, Shoulder Bone, and most guides thought they could let their luders sit up on the tubes of the raft again in preparation for trying to whip them across the lake.

In the last trivial rapid before the lake, pretty much all of the luders fell out of the rafts into the river.  They just kind of oozed out and bobbed on down to the lake where the guides had to find and retrieve theirs.  We didn’t drown any, but I’m not sure we were guaranteed it would turn out that way.

So there you go.  Just in case you were curious how that last little non-rapid on Section IV was named Quaalude Falls.  To date, I have not since forayed into management.  I feel like something bad would be bound to happen.


A River Story

In 1975 I was a raft guide for the Nantahala Outdoor Center on Chattooga Section IV. At the beginning of one Saturday morning trip, I was sleepily giving the raft guide talk to a bunch of young guys about ‘paddle-forward-paddle-backward-keep-your-feet-up-don’t-lose-your-paddle…’.  One of the guys interrupts, ‘I BEG YOUR PARDON SIR, BUT WE’RE FAMILIAR WITH THIS CRAFT, SIR’.  In retrospect, I realize that my entire life prior to 23 years of age was lived in a pre-coffee haze.  So I raise one eyebrow and give a sleepy, skeptical ‘Really? Zat so?’  From our self-appointed crew representative, ‘SIR, YES SIR.  IT’S AN RB7, SIR. A SEVEN MAN RUBBER BOAT, SIR.’

Well, indeed they were familiar with that craft.  Turns out they were army Rangers, just graduated, and just coming off of a peppermint schnapps celebration (said celebration having ended maybe minutes earlier).

Where could you go wrong with a brutally strong crew that understands teamwork and knows how to follow orders?  Navigating rapids was a piece of cake.  Corporal Kowalski, with a gorilla build and body hair to match, contributed his own approach in the rock gardens.  He would lean over the front and push the nose of the raft right or left around the rocks.  From my seat he looked like The Hulk swatting the rocks out of the way.

When we made it to Seven Foot Falls, we went early in the string of rafts and had the expected flawless run.  We were sitting in the raft watching the rest of the rafts come through and Sergeant RB7 turns to me and says ‘So that’s it?’  Well, OK.  The water level was good, but not high, and Section IV is good solid whitewater, but maybe not hair-raising if you do it right.  Apparently the crew was not getting their adrenaline fix, so I nudged the raft off the shore and let us drift out of the pool of beached rafts.  We floated around the next bend after Seven Foot and tucked behind a rock that towered 20 feet or so over the left bank.

Never a word was said, but they all slipped out of the raft as a group and climbed up to a vantage point behind the top of the rock.  When the next raft of unwitting Atlanta suburbanites slid under the rock, the Rangers went into full ‘death from above’ mode and leaped into the raft.  In a flash, they grabbed paddles, lunches, and first aid kits and disappeared into the undergrowth.  I’m just glad they didn’t slit all the customer’s throats.  They regrouped and made another attack or two. Now they were amused.  I hadn’t thought about it till now, but I’ll bet my fellow guides were really irked with me.

When we got to Five Falls, we had good runs of First Fall and Corkscrew, no surprise.  We were sitting in the pool above Crack-in-the-Rock waiting our turn when a crew broached a raft on the log in right crack, and wrapped the raft around the log.  I’d never seen anyone do this before and never since, so this was a good piece of work.  I was eyeing the problem and dreaded dealing with it.  This was before the Z-drag technology was developed, and I figured the guides would be fighting with it for an hour trying to drag the raft off the log.

I turned to sergeant RB7 and said, completely in jest, ‘why don’t you guys take care of that?’  BAM, they were in the water and all over that raft.  I wouldn’t have thought they would have been effective in the effort, not really being whitewater types, but we come back to that brutal strength and teamwork thing.  They had the raft off the log in less than five minutes, with no casualties.

The river was at 1.85, just above the Sock-em-Dog cut off of 1.80.  Owner Payson Kennedy was actually on the trip, and I made the case for us running Sock-em-Dog, as I was pretty sure we would sail over it.  Payson turned us down (probably wisely) and it turned out that a rafter from an unguided missile drowned in the rapid later in the day.

So the crew is grumpy again about having to rope the raft around Sock-em-Dog. For a consolation prize I pushed us off early again, ran Shoulder Bone, and drifted down to that left bank rock that juts over the river.  This one is only about eight or ten feet high, but they were still able to amuse themselves mounting an attack on slow-to-learn raft crews.

‘Ambush Rock’ below Shoulder Bone is pretty much a part of river culture now, but far as I know my Ranger crew in 1975 was the first to utilize the possibilities.  If you’re on a Section IV trip and you want to up the ante, there’s always that ambush point just below Seven Foot Falls.

In all truthfulness, after this raft trip with the Rangers, I have felt safer as an American.  I swear I don’t know why anyone would ever screw with us.  I am sincerely grateful that a) people of this caliber are defending our country, and b) someone is keeping them off the street.